Butterflyweed and Some Monarch Numbers

The Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is blooming. We have several species of Milkweed in the garden, but A. tuberosa is the first of these to bloom.


It’s also my favorite. I am in love with the clusters of unusual, bright orange flowers.  We now have three sizable clumps of Butterflyweed: one in the Driveway Border, one in the Lamppost Bed, and one in the Veg. and Herb Bed.

DSC_0501As you probably know, Monarchs will lay their eggs only on Milkweeds and no other genus of plants. So, no Milkweed means no Monarchs. And Milkweeds are popular nectar plants for many pollinators.

DSC_0499Fortunately, many Milkweeds are fine plants for the garden, Butterflyweed not least among them.

DSC_0590It’s usually an easy plant if you have well-drained soil and full sun.

DSC_0604Seeing the Butterflyweed in bloom reminded me that I had not seen the most recent population estimate for the number of Monarchs overwintering in Mexico, where the Monarch migration begins and ends. So I looked it up.


The overwintering Monarch population is measured in the total area occupied by the butterly’s colonies. For the winter of 2016-2017, there were 2.91 hectares (a little over 7 acres) covered with Monarchs.

The Driveway Border. Butterflyweed shouts “hello!” even from a distance.

That’s a 27% decline from the winter of 2015-2016, but still a substantial improvement over the three winters from 2012 to 2015, when Monarch populations reached an all-time low.

Butterflyweed in the Lamppost Bed

There’s another way of looking at these numbers. Kylee Baumle, garden blogger and author of The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly, notes that there was a devastating snow storm in Mexico that occurred just as the 2016 spring migration was starting. This killed a huge number of Monarchs – as many as 75%, according to some estimates.

DSC_0714 Monarch
Monarch on Butterflyweed.

So it seems the most recent overwintering figures represent a significant recovery from the effects of the 2016 storm. Kylee considers the report to be one for the win column.

Even so, Monarch numbers remain at historic lows. They are still threatened by habitat destruction, pesticides, and climate change. Conservation efforts could be having a positive impact, but the Monarch migration is still very much endangered.

31 Comments on “Butterflyweed and Some Monarch Numbers”

  1. I love this butterfly weed and for some reason what I planted last year did not take. I’ll have to try again when things settle down in the yard. But I have seen only a few Monarchs this year anywhere, it is very sad. In general butterflies seem to be missing from any landscape. As with almost everything else I try to remain optimistic.

  2. This is a wonderful post, Jason! I have one large patch of Butterfly Weed, and I’ve added several more this year that are just getting going. (Several other milkweeds in the garden are great, too!) Asclepias tuberosa is definitely a garden-worthy plant, and the Monarchs seem to like to lay their eggs among the flower buds. It’s a beautiful companion with tall purple bloomers, as your photos show. Mine are at about the same stage of blooming as yours, and I have purple Alliums, Echinacea, and Salvias nearby. Love this plant, and the added benefit of helping the Monarchs makes it a win-win!

  3. My butterfly weed is only about 5 inches tall this year. I didn’t even think it was going to come up but it did. I don’t have full sun. It has been droughty here. I can only sigh when I see your tremendous clumps. I know all of the bugs thank you for planting it. The long view of your drive is gorgeous.

  4. Butterfly weed is so pretty! Mine is in bloom now, too, and my rose milkweed is full of buds. It is encouraging to see that everyone’s efforts have really paid off with an increase in the population, even though much of it was tragically cut down by that snowstorm just as the monarchs were coming out of hibernation last year. Let’s hope the upward trend continues!

  5. Love butterfly weed. It shows to good effect with your Culver’s root and tithonia. It has just about run its blooming course in central Kentucky. I have it at home and at the two community gardens I help maintain. A. Incarnata (swamp milkweed) is coming into bud. My purple milkweed had reached about 10 inches and something got to it and it shriveled up. Fingers x’d for next year. And fingers and toes x’d for the monarchs!

  6. Oh, I am so jealous. Your butterfly weeds are gorgeous. Out of my six butterfly weeds grown from seed, only two survived. Something ate the other four after I planted them, but one of my neighbors rooted some, and he gave me six rooted cuttings. I’ve planted three of the six. Maybe next year mine will look as nice as yours do. Appreciate the monarch information!

  7. Can’t tell you how many times this plant failed for me in Glen Ellyn IL, but out here on the prairie it thrives and is now reseeding EVERYWHERE — the pasture, fence lines and anywhere those clever fluffy things catch hold. I think their favorite place is between spiny rose canes. I do not have the heart to yang them (not that that would help). They just grow back from their tap root. This is a very difficult plant for nurseries to grow in containers. I am surprised and delighted it is the Perennial Plant of the Year. Do not loose heart gardeners, keep on trying. Or you are welcome to come out here and bring your shovel!

  8. I have more milkweed in my garden this year than last, and yet I have not seen a single monarch. ALso, I have seen only one blackswallow tail one time and no caterpillars. Last year I saw as many as a dozen caterpillars on one day.

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